WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO, reacting to controversy over its 1984 endorsement for President, said Monday that it has asked 15 declared or potential presidential candidates from both major parties to answer questions in writing and to speak on videotape about the "unique leadership role of the presidency."
Those techniques were not used four years ago, when the labor federation made a pre-primary endorsement of Democrat Walter F. Mondale and ignored Republicans at a time when many members supported the reelection of President Reagan.
"The main difference between this and 1984 is the openness of it," said Joan Baggett, political director of the Bricklayers Union. "Everybody will see what the commitments to us are. I think there was a perception in the 1984 endorsement that some deal making went on behind closed doors when the candidates appeared before the (AFL-CIO executive) council. Of course, there were no deals, but it takes awhile to turn that perception around." After the 1984 endorsement, Mondale was attacked as a captive of organized labor.
Answers Due in April
In letters mailed Friday, seven Democrats and eight Republicans were asked for their views on the trade deficit, the budget deficit, "human needs" programs and organized labor's "proper role in the political process." They were given until April 17 to furnish answers limited to 200 words per question.
The 15 also were asked to videotape a four-minute statement on leadership before April 30.
AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland has said the federation may decide to endorse a Democrat and a Republican before the parties begin selecting delegates next year to their nominating conventions. However, several union presidents have speculated that the federation's executive council will be unable to muster the two-thirds majority required for an endorsement.
Baggett said New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo was considered the most likely Democrat to win AFL-CIO backing until he announced last month that he would not be a candidate. And, she said, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) was the likeliest Republican to receive an AFL-CIO endorsement until he opposed legislation sought by organized labor to outlaw "double-breasted" contracting, or the diversion of business by union companies to non-union subsidiaries.
'Tough Time' Foreseen
"Right now, I think they (AFL-CIO) will have a tough time coming to a consensus," said Richard Murphy, a one-time union official who now works for former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), the Democratic front-runner in opinion polls. "That doesn't mean an endorsement won't happen because Kirkland is interested in reaching a consensus" to avoid a splintering of labor influence and campaign resources.
Democrats receiving the AFL-CIO questionnaire were Hart, former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and 1984 candidate Jesse Jackson.
Republican recipients were Vice President George Bush, Dole, former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont, former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, former Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, evangelist Pat Robertson and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.